Category Music

To Imagine One World: Netflix’s “The Greatest Night in Pop”

A sense of poignancy runs all through the recent Netflix documentary, “The Greatest Night in Pop,” and its branches spread out in multiple directions.

One branch brings the simple passage of time into sharp relief. As we gaze upon a gallery of superstar musicians in their creative prime who assembled on one fabled night in Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago to sing one song—“We Are the World”— on behalf of African famine relief, we know that a good number of them are no longer bound to earth. (Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, two of the Pointer Sisters).

Another branch shows those still living who consented to interviews these years later. We see at least some of them as barely recognizable ghost images of their physical selves in 1985. (As are we, if we were around then.) (As I was…)

Not that they aren’t still vibrant, engaging and fu...

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Brilliant Songs #44: Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”

One plink of a C note on the piano, followed quickly up the scale by an F and then A note to complete a lovely little triad one could teach a child in a moment or two. Then a repeat, after which the left hand descends to a note on the lower register, and, depending on the particular arrangement, a violin, cello, or other accompanist joins in to commence one of the most contemplative pieces of music ever offered up to human ears.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” translates as “Mirror(s) in the Mirror,” suggesting an endless reflection of images, the triad of the initial notes forming a foundation that seems to stretch out and carry listeners along to infinity...

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Brilliant Songs #43: Damien Jurado’s “Silver Joy”

Sometimes I find myself wishing there were fewer supremely talented musicians and other artists plying their trade across the world so I could better keep up without feeling badly about missing out on as much as I do. Yes, I’m aware of the highly dubious logic of that statement, so I’ll drop it right now.

Instead, I’ll share yet one more jewel by a singer-songwriter there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of—unless you’ve been hanging around the Seattle club scene the past quarter-century or so. Or were doubly fortunate as I was this week in viewing the splendid and unlikely intergenerational road-buddy movie with a holiday backdrop, Alexander Payne’s  “The Holdovers,”

There, amidst a carefully curated soundtrack that ranges across multiple genres to support its 1970 setting, looms the beautiful and tender “Silver Joy,” from Seattle-based acoustic guitarist Damien Jurado.

Jurado, now 52, launched his c...

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Brilliant Songs #42: Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor”

If I’m drawn to a piece of music, it usually begins to spin its magic on me in the first few notes. Doesn’t matter the genre or era, and doesn’t always require that I be listening closely at the time.

Maybe the radio or Spotify will be on low volume and I’ll barely hear a melodic snippet or phrase or emotional lilt and the next thing out of my mouth to whomever is close to the dial is, “Can you please turn that up?”

And so it was a few weeks ago when somewhere—so many inputs, such cluttered memory—the late trumpeter Donald Byrd’s name appeared on an exotically named tune called “Cristo Redentor.” Byrd’s was the first recording of the song in 1963, and it still reigns as the definitive version. It was written, however, by his pal and collaborator, the composer and pianist Duke Pearson. And as you’ll see and hear evidence of below, the song does right by a wide variety of practitioners.

…a song that tran...

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Brilliant Songs #41: Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License”

Sometimes an artist comes along who just knocks the legs right out from under you, and after you’ve picked yourself up you’re left wondering how such seemingly natural, God-given talent could have developed to the degree it has. (Though one of the answers is surely “lots of hard work.”)

This sense of amazement is all the more the case when the artist is a mere 20 years old, with a monster hit already in her rear view mirror and three Grammys on her shelf, still shining brightly after a debut album of all original material when she was 18 shot her into the stratosphere, a veritable babe in the musical woods.

…the few bits of data on a card underlie every avenue of grief and anger she explores as adulthood’s losses and emotional scarring are revealed as the costs of being human, and vulnerable, and alive.

We can’t always tell what any given artist’s long-term trajectory might be...

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